Tone Controls (usually on amps but also on effects)
Treble - is the amount of high end in the sound. High settings of this will make the sound very sharp and crisp. It will make finger and string noise louder and make it scratchier. Usual set around 5-6, be careful with higher settings as it can make to sound too harsh or just unpleasant.Middle - This is this most important control. Middle (mids) settings can change the whole character of the sound. Taking the mids out (a low setting of 2-3) will give quite a rock sound whereas a higher mid setting will make it more “Honky”. Be careful with the mid, it’s usually set around between 3-4, it is unusual to have it set higher than 5-6.
Bass - usually set around 6-7 or more, this will add low end or bass sound. On some amps you will need to set this higher or the sound will be thin. On very small amps it is hard to get a lot of bass in the sound because the speakers are too small to make them!
Filter / Tone/ Contour - Adjusts all of the above settings in one knob. Usually these change the mid frequency and add bass, but they vary. Get to know each unit that uses these controls and experiment to find out what they do.
Parametric EQ - this is a more proffesional type where 3 knobs control the EQ (equaliser) or Tone. One controls the frequency to be adjusted, one controls whether the frequency is increased or decreased in volume, the last (sometimes left out) control (called Q) is how wide an area of frequency is changed (is just 90-100hz adjusted or is 70-120Hz adjusted). They take some work to use correctly but are the best form of eq.
Distortion and Overdrive Effects
These sounds originate from people turning old valve amps up a lot louder than they were designed to go, making the sound “break up”. This sound is created because of the way a guitar signal acts in a valve when there is too much signal going into it and also the sound of speakers when they are being pushed too hard. There are also many overtones created, making the sound thicker. The sound can also become “compressed”, squashed with less difference between loud and quiet.Valve products (both amps and pedals) usually sound better, warmer and clearer, but are more unreliable, heavier and more fragile. The valves get very, very hot, I’ve burnt myself a few times, and never move a hot valve amp or you might damage the valves. They are the business and most serious guitarist use valve amps.
Solid State (also called Transistor or Digital Distortion) tends to sound more metallic or synthetic and not as real. Some modern amps use new emulation technology to make a sound very close to a valve sound, but they have not got it quite right yet. Some people prefer this type of amp because of it reliability. I once had a Peavy that sounded terrible but survived a tour when it was dropped down stairs and even when it fell out the back of a moving van! The sound is more consistent (no waiting for your valves to warm up) and they are easier to control. Some amps have a mix of both like the Marshall Valve-State amps, some of which sound very good.
Master Volume is another popular feature where the pre-amp (think amp 1) can be very distorted and then fed into another amp (think amp 2) which can be set more quietly. Setting both to a med level should give a good clean or crunchy sound, while running the first up high and the second low will give you the most distortion.
Overdrive, Distortion, Gain and Drive Pedals can also give a similar sound. There are many different types of distortion pedals, from the expensive Mesa Boogie V-Twin pedal (that contains real valves) to the standard Boss OD1 overdrive unit, my personal favourites are the Boss BD-1 Blues Driver and the Rat Pro Co pedal. Another classic is the Ibanez Tube Screamer, which can also sound great. A blues type of pedal will give you a good “dirty” blues sound (think Led Zeppelin or Jimi Hendrix) and a Metal or Distortion pedal will give you a more heavy, distorted sound (like heavy metal bands like Metallica or Slipknot). They typically have 3 knobs, Gain (or Distortion), Tone and Level.
Gain (also called Drive, Overdrive or Distortion) - Sets the amount of distortion. Setting it on full will usually compress the sound and make it very distorted for metal while lower settings will give a better rhythm sound or for blues.
Tone - Controls the tone (srprise!) and acts like one on an amp (see Tone above)
Level - Controls how loud the sound is coming out of the pedal.
* Tip - Sometimes it is possible to use two (or more) distortion pedals to have a rhythm sound (medium volume and not a lot of distortion) and the other with a lead sound (high volume and lots of distortion). Press on just the rhythm pedal on, and then to change to your lead sound press on both pedals (by pressing your foot down on both of them, maybe have to angle your foot) and you will turn the rhythm pedal off and the lead pedal on! Very cool trick. I use about 3 distortion pedals for a normal gig, an extra very loud very dirty sound for screaming solos.
Reverb is the natural echo found in most rooms. If you clap your hands in a small room and then in a big church you will clearly hear the effects of natural reverb. The effect is often on amps but also in pedals and is probably the most common effect. Most sounds you hear on albums will have reverb on the guitars. They usually just have one knob (amount of reverb) but sometimes you can choose the type of room you would like the effect to emulate, like church, room, hall etc. Many older amps have Spring Reverb, which actually uses spings in the base of the amp that rattle to produce reverb (simply put). Find out by tapping your amp lightly on the top and if you hear thinder coming out then it is spring reverb! It usually sounds pretty pants if you set reverb too high (above 8), it is better used with tasteful settings of around 2-4.
Digital Delay, Analogue Delay and Echo
These are collectively called spacial effects and are usually found in pedals and rarely included on amps. They repeat the sound a few milliseconds (or more) after the uneffected sound and repeat it any number of times, slowly fading away. It is a very useful effect, that can be used with subtlety or with very long delay times (up to a few seconds). The coolest are the old Tape Echo effects (like the WEM copycat) but they are expensive and very unreliable. More popular are the modern digital delays (the Boss DD series are excellent) which can have many effects options and can include such features as reverse delay and multi-tap delays, some can even set the tempo of repeats by tapping on the pedal. The most common knobs are Time, Feedback and Mix.Time - Controls how long the before the delayed sound will be heard. Can be anything up to 2 seconds but usually around 300 milliseconds. The long delays can be hard to use because when you change chords the effects don’t follow the new chords straight away and can sound strange and out of tune. Long time settings can make very cool atmospheric sounds where you kinda play with yourself, try it out for yourself.
Feedback - Controls how many repeats there are. The lowest setting will give just one repeat, high settings and the repeats seem to go on for ever. Usually start with it settings around 3-4 but of course you should experiment.
Mix - Controls how much of the effected signal is mixed with the normal guitar signal. Settings of 5-6 are normal, but again, just experiment yourself.
Chorus effects are usually found on effects pedals but is sometimes found on amps (like the Roland Jazz Chorus). They split the signal into more than one part and then adjust the pitch of one (or more) moving it up and then down in pitch. It can make it sound like there is more than one guitar playing and is a very popular and common effect, you will recognise the sound quickly when you hear it. They typically have 3 knobs, Rate, Depth and Mix.Rate - Controls how quickly the pitch is changed. This is usually set around 5-6 but you should experiment with this. Slow setting with a high Rate setting can be very effective, as can high Rate setting with a small depth.
Depth - Controls how wide the pitch is changed, how “out of tune” the additional voices are made. You can get very cool sounds with higher settings (like the clean sound in Smells Like A Teen Spirit by Nirvana) but lower settings are more common.
Mix - Controls how much of the effected signal is mixed in with the normal guitar sound. For extreme settings set it to full or for a more subtle effect set it to 3-4.
The Flange effect is similar to the chorus effect in that it also splits the signal and effects one part of it. With the Flange effect, one signal has an accented (louder) frequency that slowly goes up and down within it’s band. It is a very distinctive effect, usually used for parts of a song (like a verse) rather than the whole song. Extreme settings tend to sound quite weird and are hard to use, but good for special effects intros and things like that. The knobs are usually the same as for Chorus effects.
The wah-wah sound has been immortalised by Jimi Hendrix who used it often and was one of the first people to use it. It sounds a little like you are talking, and most people have amusing facial expressions when they use them. They consist of a small pot (potentiometer) like the tone knob on your guitar which is turned up and down by moving the pedal with your foot. They are usually clicked on and off by pressing down hard in the forward position. They can take some time to get sounding right, don’t just tap your foot in time with the song all the time, try making the guitar talk!
Talk Box Effects
Talk Box effects are the trick heard on the Bon Jovi tune Livin On A Prayer. The pedal contains a small speaker which plays the guitar signal loudly up a small plastic tube that you put in your mouth! It is then heard in the vocal mic but some modern pedals (like the Dan Electro Free Speech talk box) have a microphone built in too so the sound can come out of your amp (I have one of these and in my experience the mic sounds shite and feeds back if the volume is at normal gig volume). They can really rattle you filling too, so be careful. Quite a specific sound and not one that can be used for a long time without sounding boring.